Growing up, orange juice was a staple on our breakfast table. And juice has continued to be part of my morning routine ever since. A 6-oz. glass of OJ supplies 100% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin C along with an array of other nutrients, all for just 80 calories. And it’s a quick and easy way to consume at least a third of your daily quota of fruit.
So imagine my surprise – and chagrin – when I learned that parents are being warned against serving fruit juice to their kids based on claims that juice is loaded with sugar and causes childhood obesity. A recent Wall Street Journal article actually characterized juice as a “gateway drink” to sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Whoa! Are we seriously comparing fruit juice to a drug?? That’s definitely going too far in my book and sadly misjudges juice and its positive contributions to kids’ – and everyone’s – nutrient intake.
As a result of the negative press, many parents are forgoing juice altogether or diluting it with water. And some enterprising companies have jumped on the bandwagon by selling watered-down juice at a premium price. Just remember, this dilutes the nutritional contributions of juice by 50% as well. And it seems ironic that while parents are depriving their kids of juice, they’re drinking more of it themselves! The last decade has brought a boon in the sale of home juicers and a rise in juice and smoothie bars.
But no one is saying the fruit from which juice is made contributes to negative outcomes. As one of the 16 volunteer Produce for Better Health Foundation Fruit and Vegetable Ambassadors, we promote all five forms of produce: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice. So let’s explore more about the positive attributes of juice and dispel some myths.
Fruit Juice is Not Soda
In the past three decades fruit juice has gone from a perfectly acceptable breakfast beverage to one lumped in the same category as sugar-sweetened beverages like soda. A recent study based on self-reported sugary drink consumption, grouped soda and fruit-flavored drinks together with 100% fruit juice (but not sweetened tea) and concluded that they caused an increase in deaths. This analysis had several shortcomings, some acknowledged by the researchers: the number of participants who died during the relatively short follow-up period was small; the causes of death were not identified; soda consumption was self-reported, which is often underreported; results were based on 12-ounce portions, which is larger than usual for juice; and they did not estimate intake of all types of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sweetened tea.
While sugar content of soda and 100% juice may be similar, the comparison stops there. Fruit juice is a source of essential nutrients while sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda or fruit-flavored drinks provide no other nutrients besides sugar. And, according to a new study, there is no evidence to support claims that fruit juice consumption is linked to childhood weight gain or metabolic effects. Another recent study found similar results: children who drank more milk, 100% juice and water and less soda had better quality diets and giving up juice was not linked with lower body weights.
Fruit Juice is Nutrition-Packed
Juice is an easy way for children to obtain one or two fruit servings each day along with the key nutrients it contains. Juice delivers vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients important for good health including vitamins A, C and folic acid along with the minerals magnesium and potassium. In addition, those who drink fruit juice have a more nutrient-rich diet overall as well as a lower intake of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Juice is also a great way to help meet daily fluid needs and stay hydrated. But recommendations to limit juice can have unintended nutritional consequences. As people have consumed less fruit juice over the last 30 years, they have not replaced it with more whole fruit, so children and adults may not meet their daily recommendation for fruit intake.
Consider Juice as Part of the Total Diet
When you only look at individual foods or beverages in your daily meals, you may fail to see the big picture of how all foods and beverages work together to create a nutritionally adequate intake and influence your weight and health. Juice is only one component of your diet, so to claim that juice leads to obesity or other problems is misleading. There are many contributing factors and no single food or ingredient is responsible for negative effects. Simple “one-size-fits-all” solutions are not the answer. Including both 100% juice and whole fruit with meals and snacks is the best way to meet the daily recommended servings of fruit. How much do we need to eat? For children 1 – 6 years old, a total of 1 cup of fruit and juice each day is recommended and for those 7 – 12, 1½ cups should be consumed. Anyone 13 or older needs 2 cups of fruit over the course of the day, including juice.
With 75% of Americans not consuming enough fruit, we should not be doing anything to discourage folks from eating any kind of fruit. That’s why the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend increasing fruit in all forms, including 100% juice. According to the Guidelines, one cup of 100% fruit juice counts as 1 cup of fruit. And while they recommend at least half of the recommended amount of fruits be whole fruit (fresh, frozen, canned or dried), that means up to half of daily fruit intake may come from 100% juice.
So stop worrying…and put juice back in your shopping cart and on your table for the entire family!
*A special thanks to Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Dietetic Intern, McKenzie Hicks, for her assistance with this blog.
MS, RDN, LD, FAND
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